One morning just over a year ago, I was surprised to see the above photo taken from President Obama’s Washington, DC-bound train appear in a Washington Post collection from the inauguration. It was still a novelty to see anything pro-EV in a major publication, but what struck me at the time was that I had no idea who these people in Delaware were. Not long before, the plug-in movement was small enough that not only would we have known about something like this before it happened, we would have been the ones out there with the signs freezing our butts off.
A little googling revealed that the local Chrysler plant had recently closed, and these folks were hoping to see it re-opened and used to build a new generation of electric cars. I haven’t heard about them since (though the former Saturn plant in the area is slated for Fisker) but the image stuck with me. A simple group, a simple message- and a deep belief that the two were enough to change things. The story of my life, so to speak.
And we have; nearly every major automaker now has a plug-in car in the works. The first ones are scheduled to hit their initial market areas by the end of the year. But the flip side of that coin is how much work there is to be done in the same time frame; a walk through this season’s conference hallways reveals smiling faces on top of heavy shoulders and whispering among veterans about whether it’s all going to get done. Which is why I’m baffled that various stakeholders have started to “declare victory” and talk about what’s next.
We’re in an odd phase, trying to balance the tension of public excitement for what’s to come with the frustration that it’s not here just yet. In many ways, this is when the bulk of the work begins, much of it unseen and un-sexy: the final engineering shakeouts in extreme temperatures, the combing and refining of labyrinthian charger installation and DMV processes, dealer training, service manual writing, and so on. Having worked though a vehicular generation where we got through all of those things, had EVs on the road with seemingly more to come and still had it all go south, I know we’re not nearly in a secure enough spot to relax.
The worst thing we can do now is to get complacent- not because those involved aren’t serious, but because intention alone isn’t enough. And if what appears to be light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be the oncoming train, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.
But when we really do get it done? Oh, we’re throwing one hell of a party.